Cult Culture: Run, Runner!

There are two notable 70’s sci-fi franchises.  Both are based off of original novels and
both spun wildly out of control.  The
greatest is Planet of the Apes, based
on the speculative Pierre Boulle novel. It spawned four sequels, a TV show, a
series of cheesy novels based on the TV show and a modern day remake that,
apparently, lacked a scriptwriter.
Second banana (ho-ho) is Logan’s
Run
, coming off of William F. Nolan’s series of dime store novels and, in
turn, spawning a TV series and an upcoming remake.  Fortunately for you and me and all that is
good in America,
the remake seems to have stalled.  Let’s
flash back.

Most everybody is familiar with Logan’s Run.  Michael York
plays a wishy-washy pansy to the best of his very moderate acting ability.   The always fantastically beautiful Jenny
Agutter does get naked, as in all of her movies between 1965 and 1995, and kind
of outshines Michael York at every turn, even when she’s not in the scene.  In fact, I outshine Michael York.

It is the 23rd Century and humanity survives in
self-contained city domes.  Even though
the all-knowing all-seeing computer and the populace refer to “pre-catastrophe
times,” there’s no real understanding of why people are living in the domes,
what exists outside and, once we get outside, what happened to the ruined
civilization.  Nor is it really important
because, hey, Jenny Agutter’s not wearing underwear.

The best known part of the plot is that when you turn 30,
you die voluntarily.  Classic population
control, except the people think that they are being instantly renewed. Reborn
into the “breeders” that hold all of the infants.  Thus you get Logan 5 and Jessica 6 and
Francis 7, our main characters.  Logan’s the fifth reborn Logan, and so on.  It’s one of those stories where you really
want to see a prequel just to know what happened.  Though I should be careful what I wish for
because, then, I end up with Battle for the
Planet of the Apes
,
where the newly formed civilization
wonders about the future and the statue of Roddy McDowell cries.  Yeah, that’s the way to end a franchise.  Jesus…
The populace in the domes is, overall, passive.  They’re kept in line by the computer, which
gives them everything they could possibly desire, as well as the fully licensed
to kill squad of Sandmen.  A Sandman’s
usual task is to track down runners – those who don’t want to give up their
lives, doubt the computer, or are just freaking out.

It’s Logan’s
bad luck that he kills a runner who was part of a secret society opposed to the
computer.  Taking an Ankh necklace from
the runner, he tosses it in evidence control and gets called to the magical
computer chair where the supercomputer gives him a mission – find the place
called Sanctuary and track down over a thousand runners who have gone
missing.  Oh, and we have to age you four
years.  Sorry.

Logan becomes a runner, infiltrating the secret society,
falling in love with Jenny Agutter, pursued by his old best friend and, after a
race through abandoned sections of the city, escaping to the pristine,
unpopulated outside world.  There, he
meets Peter Ustinov in the ruins of Washington,
D.C.

It’s always a thrill for a DC native to see those
ruins.  The city has reverted to a swamp,
the rowhouses overgrown and an ivy-covered Lincoln looks out at the reeds and muck.  It’s that sort of attention to historical
detail that makes Logan’s Run move
from a bad movie to an okay movie with extraordinarily bad special effects and
giant plot holes and the jaw-grinding presence of Michael York.

In a rushed ending, Logan
goes back, destroys the city and frees the populace.  That’s all done in about 10 minutes and,
mainly, is achieved by telling the supercomputer the truth.  Usually you have to lie to destroy these
futuristic computers, but Logan
isn’t that clever.  He tells it a few
facts about the outside (which, since the computer is drawing resources from
the outside, it should know) and it freaks out by dramatically blowing up the
city.

You know, when you’re making a computer designed to control
all of humanity, you’d think you’d set it up to deal with people a little
better.

Too bad the movie took such a heavy-handed and
overly-simplified attitude to the finale.
It’s what ruined the franchise.
See what Planet of the Apes did?
They all but included the prologue to the next movie there at the
end.  If Logan’s Run had followed the books, they could have stretched it
out.

The books feature the same sort of idea:  Logan
is assigned by the computer to find and destroy Sanctuary, falls in love along
the way, and turns rogue.  He manages to
break some people out and forms a little tribe of goofballs, then sets out to
destroy the computer.  What’s the
problem?  He soon learns that his city is
one of thousands spread across the globe and all controlled by a
mega-super-duper-computer built under the Crazy
Horse Monument
in South Dakota.  This computer not only knows how to deal with
people, it’s also insane.    Logan loses but discovers
that, after so many hundreds of years, the computer is starting to lose control
of certain sections.  He decides to
attack it from the blind spots – city by city.
But then the books spin off to weird stories of exploring the outside,
dealing with mutated people who had been living on a space ark, and so on.  Also, the books had you die at 18 instead of
30, so you get the whole growing up together thing.

One nod the movie did make was the decay within in the
cities.  Places where the computer had
lost control.  For the urban explorer in
you, Logan’s Run has fine moments of
crawling around sets that are supposed to be old breeding grounds and power
rooms that the city has abandoned – as well as everyone’s favorite meat processing
plant run by the lunatic robot called Box.
“Fish!  Plankton!  Proteins from the sea!”

The TV series, then, started off on a good foot.  It was brutally destroyed by bad writers and
weird network rules against violence.
It’s tough to avoid violence when you’re a heavily armed refugee pursued
by police forces ordered to kill you and you’re in a world populated by tribal
post-apocalypse monsters and blood-thirsty robots.

Somehow, the series does avoid killing people on screen.  This is, as you can tell shortly into the
first episode, because it was all written by a five year old.

However, the series did the right thing.  It borrowed from the movie and from the books
and then created its own little mythos.
This time, Logan
is given the mission, falls in love, runs through the abandoned parts of the
city, defeats Box, steals a fancy sci-fi truck and takes off.

Francis 7, Logan’s
old buddy, is then called in by the computer and given the low-down.  Logan went
rogue during a mission, so now it’s up to Francis to destroy Sanctuary, destroy
the runners, and kill Logan.  He can pick five other Sandmen and they’re
all going outside, but no one can learn of outside, but they will, so it’s, and
the…with the…You know, just kill him.

Now, here’s where the series gets nice.  Francis is told to walk through a door beside
the big computer screen.  He does, and
he’s in Oz.  The men behind the curtain –
a council of elders who have been secretly controlling both the computer and
the city.  Now Francis knows the truth
and, instead of freaking out and going rogue, he accepts everything these old
men say and rides out to his death.
Overall, he’s pretty calm for someone who’s never seen anyone over 30
and has dedicated his professional life to killing people when they hit
30.  (Not to mention learning that there’s
an outside and that everything in the city is a sham run by the Freemasons.)

Meanwhile, the outside world is populated by folks who
didn’t make it into the city back during the “catastrophe.”  Unlike the movie (but like in the books) the
unexplained “catastrophe” came at a time far in our own future.  So there are plenty of little toys and hidden
bases and forgotten vaults with nifty sci-fi crap in them.  Logan and Jessica’s first adventure is at a
robot vacation land where, after hundreds of years, the robots have gone
crazy.  Destroying it, they’re joined by
the lovable android REM, who sort of fills the role of Peter Ustinov.  Then it’s off – Logan, Jessica and REM
pursued by Francis and his squad of Sandmen.
They battle tribal freaks, highly advanced brains with eyestalks (the
sci-fi staple), and even meet angry time travelers and confused people from the
1970’s who had been cryogenically preserved.
It’s classic journeyman sci-fi.
Francis is always one step behind, every episode ends with a laugh, and
you know that every problem has an easy solution in the last 15 minutes.  (Dear Francis:  Just
shoot them!
)

Once every couple of episodes, Francis catches up and either
he and Logan must join forces to survive, or some clever trick leaves Francis
stumbling over his own bootlaces and Logan,
laughing, runs away.

The series is bone-deep painful at every turn.  The saving grace is the post-apocalyptic
journeyman aspect combined with extensive exploration of urban ruins.  You kind of have to watch it.  It’s the ultimate “what could have been” 70’s
sci-fi series.  Space: 1999 started out amazing, then got fucked.  Clear.
Battlestar Galactica, now, has
been vindicated.  Planet of the Apes: The Series, was always falsely accused of being
bad, I think.  I loved it, and I say it
suffered from overexposure.  Logan‘s Run – it was bad from the beginning,
and it didn’t have to be.  It had the
potential to be an Earth-bound Blake’s 7.  What operated against it was the movie, the
networks, and the worst team of writers this side of reality.

However, the series featured a few points that may be
familiar.  REM is the innocent, loving
android who seeks to become more human.
Ring a bell?  In the final
episode, all-powerful aliens journey to Earth via a…Stargate.  Hmmm. And, hey, I should be kind to the
series.  The episode with the
cryogenically frozen folks is stand-out sci-fi, all the way through. Penned by
Harlan Ellison, it sort of removes Logan and crew from the formula and tells
the tale of a group of people from the past – one of whom is a serial
killer.  Who is the killer?  They’re all trapped together until the
mystery is solved.  Ellison always delivers.

Fortunately (maybe), for the Logan’s Run legacy, the series was forgotten almost as soon as it
ended.  The books, of course, have also
faded away.  Now it’s just the movie,
awaiting some shit-swilling Hollywood
remake.  Even though there is no way to
suspend noticing the piss-poor special effects and the ridiculous finale, the
movie continues to stick like bad oatmeal.
Me?  I’d like to have the whole
movie be about exploring the unused parts of the city.  That and the ruins of DC have become the only
reason that I watch it again and again.
Oh, and Jenny Agutter.  Have I
mentioned Jenny Agutter?  Jenny Agutter.  Get it in you, before the remake magically
appears and causes emotional harm.

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